Hello D-Toiders. Some of you may recall me from some blogs I wrote on here a few months back. My plan was to write a weekly blog with random musings about the video games, but due to a mix of man flu, Christmas shopping overload and work commitments I inadvertently stopped writing, and have struggled to start again since. This is attempt number two and I will try and stick to it. Pinky promises and what not. To those who hadn't read my previous blogs “Hello” I'm Rhod, a 30 year old man who likes video games and general geek culture more than someone my age should, and is also sadly Welsh. Now that I've got my (re?)introduction out of the way, let's get to the meat and veg of this blog. I've been thinking recently about the ways in which our beloved pastime tries to avoid some of the most tired tropes and clichés of our everyday lives and whether this has a serious effect on our ability to relate. And to Escape.
As many a dullard and cliché monger will let you know there are two certainties in life. So they'll probably make a good place to start this blog. I haven't witnessed a large number of births in video games. At least not at a rate which would make up for the deaths. I recall becoming the sprogg of Liam Neeson in Fallout 3, but that was about it for being born in a game. Childbirth is a rather difficult thing from what I've heard. A somewhat brutal and messy affair, but also kind of …. good? The new bairn and all that? Surely relevant enough for our on-screen avatars to have had more experiences than they have. Even if it was daddy Qui Gon. As well as our own births most people I've known who are parents will explain that the birth of their child is amongst the most significant events in their lives.
The other eventuality is covered by most all games. The great gig in the sky. Death is actually something which happens at an alarming frequency in gaming. It's often a case of kill or be killed, and the body counts sure do stack up. But reality is not this grim. It seems a bit surreal then for our escapism to take place in fantasy worlds where death is a constant. Is it overkill? It's been a long time since I gave the slightest of fucks about a character dying on screen. Permanent death is a bit more of a rarity and can elicit some sadness occasionally. But looking at gaming as a whole death rarely accounts for anything more than being hit by a paint ball or laser quest gun. If we truly thought of death in gaming in real terms then I'm sure there would be a statue of Mario the Resurrection erected somewhere.
Rites of passage occur in our young lives. Whether it be Christenings, Bar/Batmitzvahs or tribal hunting of the sacred bull there are occasions which are celebrated as a young person descends on their journey to adulthood. I've never experienced any sort of religious ceremony like this in a game. I'd like to. It would be exciting to experience aspects of different cultures and I think gaming could actually do a very good job of it. I've written on Dtoid before about how sex in video games is never sexy. One huge rite of passage for all adults is the loss of virginity. Awkward, with unrealistic expectations, and bad technicality, it seems like the kind of sex that video games are just so very good at capturing. But it's another one of our human clichés that video games shy away from. And yet I'm certain that marketing companies love to instil the idea that the characters that we play should be relatable to us.
Financial independence and self sustainability are what we aim for in our twenties and thirties. And along the way a lot of people will partner up and have kids. Are we becoming real life Sims? Possibly, but it's telling that whilst looking for examples of games that that present a picture of adults in their twenties or thirties that the sims was the only game that really portrays our lives If you're under twenty then I'm sorry to disappoint but the majority of us are not athletic, adventurers fighting our way through battle after battle as we seem to be portrayed in games. In fact some of us find it hard bungling through our 9 to 5s on a daily basis, failing to exercise and struggling to afford a takeaway at the end of the week. Would I want video games to be a reflection of this? No, probably not, but it may be nice to have an every man hero/heroine to play as.
At the other end of the scale then, we have our older years. Retirement will drastically change our lives one day, and possibly give us the time to do a lot of the things that we hadn't before. It's difficult to think of an aged hero in gaming, and it seems strange to me, as other media have proved the strengths of an older protagonist. In music an older musician will often be seen as an elder statesman, someone who has been around and seen the changes in generations. Someone who has adapted to stay relevant. Clint Eastwood proved in the Unforgiven that his age would not stop him from being the hero, and Scrooge McDuck never baulked at an adventure despite being a senior citizen. In pro wrestling, the WWE have provided the Undertaker with a strong sense of gravitas by building a story around his withered bones and multiple injuries. And seriously if the WWE can make successful use of a trope then any medium that can't should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
Game companies across the world have probably had board rooms full of marketing execs asking for characters to be created that teenagers and adults can relate to. But how often is it that there is a truly relatable protagonist in gaming. Someone who has lived their life and had experiences like our own. Has a video game character ever had their heart broken? When you consider the amount of pop songs written on the subject you'd imagine that would indicate a large percentage of the population of the western world have. Off the top of my head I cant think of one video game character who has been cheated on, or simply had the object of their affections fall out of love with them? Strangely enough I can think of several who's love object has been brutally murdered but that ties in with the women in refrigerator tropes and is a discussion for another day.
We possibly play video games as an escape from our everyday lives. It's understandable then that we don't want our everyday lives to be reflected 100% in gaming. But where I would say gaming falters, is that it often just doesn't want to acknowledge our humanity at all. Perhaps this is most noticeable in surreal alternate world games such as Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Smash Brothers but is more disturbing in games set in the real world. Ubisoft though that Aiden Pierce would be an “iconic” hero. But he came across as an emotionless, impenetrable killer. He didn't have human qualities. We never found out why he was a strange quiet man, and we didn't like it. We were never given anything to work with and so he was just an awkward man who hacked and killed.
Think of a fictional character which you love. There's a good chance that you can name several things which have happened to them to make them who they are. You will believe in their motivations for their actions. And you will understand why they make bad decisions. And forgive them. You have related to them. Without that they were nothing other than a facsimile of a character, an icon or a representation. Whilst they may look good, there will be a lack of substance. Which is what Aiden Pierce was, and what many of our video game heroes turn out to be. One game that got it right recently was Dragon Age Inquisition. Whilst the game was flawed, with perhaps too many fetch quests, what kept me playing was the wonderful characters. A lot has been said about the banter between the party, but in fact it is what made the game for me. Back stories, tales of previous battles and jokes between friends lent the game a realism and made me believe in this fantasy world which I could completely escape into.
Games like Dragon Age show that we are moving in the right direction. The numerous game of the year awards that it received, indicates that there is a market for character driven narratives and relatable heroes within gaming. In 2013 the Last of Us received similar applause and its clear that the stronger studios are understanding the importance of humanity in our avatars. Lets hope that they lead the way and that other developers will begin to realise that its not cool looking characters that we care about, its the ones that reach our brains and our hearts. What do you think ladies and gents? Is a lack of realism good in our on screen avatars, or should we want something more credible? Let me know in the comments below!
And just because I didn't want to end on a preachy note, and was going to post this months ago. Here's a selfie I took of me after receiving my wonderful black friday swag, including the UBER COOL KIR-BEE destructoid t shirt. It is the fucking bomb! I highly advise you to pick up some dtoid t shirts theyre awesome and going cheap!